Good morning, California.

“This foundation supporting DMV operations reflects a reactive culture that has adversely impacted the field office customer experience.”—Department of Motor Vehicles audit, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle

Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno put it this way: “The DMV directors were asleep at the switch for a decade leading up to the Real ID rollout, and customers paid the price with exploding wait times.”

Poll: Voters feeling tax fatigue

A growing number of voters believe state and local taxes are unfair.

As Democratic legislators propose several new taxes, a state poll released Wednesday shows a majority of likely voters believe state and local taxes are unfair, a shift from past years.

The Public Policy Institute of California survey shows 53 percent of voters think state and local taxes are either not too fair or not fair at all, and 63 percent of voters believe they pay somewhat or much more than they should.  

  • 53 percent of Democrats think they pay more than is fair.
  • 76 percent of Republicans think they pay more than they should.
  • 68 percent of Latinos believe they pay more than they should

That’s a reversal from 2017, when 53 percent of likely voters thought state and local taxes were moderately fair or very fair, and a significant change from 2003, when 62 percent of voters thought taxes were moderately or very fair.

PPIC president Mark Baldassare, who oversees the poll: “The trends say to me that the governor and Legislature should proceed with caution when it comes to raising revenues or restructuring taxes in light of the perceived tax burden.”

The poll also showed significant support for new spending, he noted.

Democrats have proposed raising taxes on soda, bullets, drinking water and several other products, as CALmatters’ Judy Lin has reported.

On Wednesday, some Assembly Democrats proposed a constitutional amendment that would lower the vote threshold for local voters to approve new infrastructure projects from the current two-thirds majority to 55 percent.


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A personal plea against vaping

A bill banning flavored tobacco passes the Senate Health Committee.

To no one’s surprise, the Senate Health Committee, dominated by Democrats and chaired by a physician, voted 8-0 Wednesday to give initial approval to legislation that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, a step intended to combat an epidemic of vaping by teens.

But the most passionate speaker in favor of the bill was not liberal committee members, nor the bill’s author, Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo.

  • It was Sen. Jeff Stone, a Riverside County Republican who is one of the most conservative legislators. For Stone, a pharmacist, the issue is personal.
  • Stone dismissed testimony by an executive from Juul, the San Francisco e-cigarette purveyor, that vaping helps people quit smoking. Instead, he cited Juul’s decision to sell a 35 percent ownership stake to Altria, the world’s largest cigarette maker, for $13 billion:

“It is very transparent that these tobacco companies investing in these vaping companies have one goal, and their one goal is not to try to get people to stop using traditional tobacco.

“Their goal is to get youngsters addicted to nicotine, one of the most addictive products in the world, even as addicting as heroin. This is purposeful.”

As Stone told me shortly after he arrived in Sacramento in 2015, “My mom was truly addicted. I never saw anyone puff on a cigarette so hard.” She died at age 52. On Wednesday, he invoked her name, Charlene, as he ended his speech, his voice tight with emotion.

Money matters: Tobacco

Republicans have accepted large donations from tobacco giant Altria.

In its struggle to raise money, the California Republican Party has come to rely on a handful of companies for big donations. One is tobacco giant Altria.

The world’s largest cigarette maker donated $772,000 to the California Republican Party in the 2017-18 election cycle, making it the seventh-largest donor. Altria gave another $300,000 to Republican candidates and GOP campaign committees. Riverside Republican Sen. Jeff Stone is not among the recipients.

  • The GOP raised about $26 million in the 2017-18 election cycle.
  • The California Democratic Party raised $50 million. It doesn’t accept tobacco money, though some Democratic candidates accepted a combined $146,000 from Altria in the last cycle.

 


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Republicans stand up for Special Olympics

The 2014 Special Olympics.

In a rare break from the Trump administration, top California Republican legislators Wednesday rebuked U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposal to cut federal support for Special Olympics.

  • President Donald Trump’s education secretary said she “loves” the organization. But as she tries to pare $7 billion from her annual budget, DeVos proposed eliminating a $17.6 million expenditure for Special Olympics, an amount that represent 10 percent of the organization’s funding, the Associated Press reported.
  • Celebrities and Democratic members of Congress were quick to denounce DeVos’ proposal.

Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron of Escondido added her voice via email: 

“We should be doing everything we can to support the incredible athletes who participate. I agree that we need to reduce federal spending, but cuts to the Special Olympics are not the way to do it.”

Republican Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita emailed that he has a family member with developmental disabilities: 

“I’ve seen first-hand how activities like the Special Olympics can give vulnerable Californians and their families pride and self-confidence. I am all for reducing spending in government, but taking it out of programs that help people who are unable to help themselves is not the way to do it.”

Money matters: California lawmakers have included money for Special Olympics in state budgets twice, $2 million in the current budget and $1 million in 2016. Given the bipartisan support, expect Gov. Gavin Newsom to include some funding in the budget he must sign by July 1.

Getting tough with predatory lenders

A proposed bill would cap interest rates on small dollar loans.

The former head of the U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau on Wednesday urged California legislators to step up consumer protections against predatory lending, a move the Legislature might well make this year.

Richard Cordray, the Obama administration’s director of the agency and an unsuccessful candidate for Ohio governor, told the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee that nothing in federal law prevents states from regulating small-dollar lenders, student loan services and high-interest loans to military service members.

Noting that the Trump administration has stepped back from enforcement, Cordray said: “It’s important for states to step up.”

Assemblywoman Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat who chairs the banking committee, is pushing a bill to cap interest rates on small dollar loans at 36 percent. Assemblyman Mark Stone, a Santa Cruz Democrat, is pushing legislation to regulate student loans.

  • 90 million Americans live in states, New York among them, that cap interest rates on small-dollar loans.

Limón:California can play a role that is state specific.”

For years, legislators have tried to regulate small-dollar lenders. With a few exceptions, those attempts have failed. But Gov. Gavin Newsom has made clear that he wants tighter regulation of payday loans, giving momentum to this year’s efforts.

Commentary at CALmatters

Is higher education really about status?

Anna Shoopman, USC student: The college admissions scam, much of which involves parents of USC students, serves as a blaring signal that college is not about education. It is about status. The majority of us do not have anyone to help buy our admission, let alone our education. I am one of the millions of Americans who will graduate with massive debt. By the time I earn my master’s degree in a year and a half, my student loans will amount to about $80,000.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: A new statewide poll indicates that Californians are very worried about housing affordability—so much so that many are contemplating leaving the state.

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